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Brothers under the skin

A fellow Airstreamer, James, sent me this picture today. It's a 1989 sales brochure for Airstream, showing some of their more radical creations: the Airstream fifth-wheel and the aluminum/fiberglass "squarestream" Land Yacht trailer.


Neither of those inventions worked out for long. The fifth wheel was nicely appointed inside but flopped as a product for Airstream and was gone in about two years. The "squarestreams" lasted a little longer but were the subject of ridicule by traditional aluminum trailer owners.

But they persisted as odd little pieces of Airstream history, and many are still on the road today. Although they don't fit the image of Airstream as perceived by many people, they are legitimate products produced by the company and thus relatives of all other Airstreams ever made. With time, people have come to see them as funky vintage units, even desirable.

I am reminded of a line uttered by the bad guy in one of the Indiana Jones movies: "See this watch? Worthless ... but bury it in the sand for a thousand years, and it becomes priceless. Men will kill for it ..." It is sort of like that with old trailers. After a few decades, the most common products will become vintage, fascinating, retro, nostalgic -- and valuable.

The catch is simple: they have to survive long enough. This is where Airstreams have had a huge advantage. The riveted aluminum shells tended to hang in there longer than other styles of manufacture, and Airstream had the advantage of volume as well. So many were made over the decades that inevitably quite a few survived despite leaks, hailstorms, accidents, and neglect.

Tucson squarestream.jpg
James' Land Yacht "squarestream" in Tucson

There are purists, I suppose, who still resent the squarestreams as red-headed stepchildren that never should have been conceived. But with time, most hard feelings have mellowed and people now tend to view them as fascinating peeks into the RV market of the times. It's hard even for the purists to be threatened by the odd products of Airstream's convoluted past, since they are no longer produced and their numbers continue to dwindle over time.

My take is simply that "It's all good." While the product may vary with time, as long as Airstream preserves the essence of what makes an Airstream an icon, I'll happily embrace the products they make as kin to my own. The new Base Camp is a great example. It's new, experimental, radically different, and yet speaks to the same adventuresome spirit as all the other products.

To me, that's the tie that binds all Airstream owners together. The nameplate is a convenience, but the real bond is a shared love of travel and adventure. It is what marketers call a "psychographic," a common set of interests that defies age, race, religion, politics, or any other characteristic. The "squarestream" trailers aren't historical embarassments, but rather symbols of a lifestyle interest that can't be defined by boundaries of style, shape, or price.


Don't you just love all the old ads for the things you really enjoy? It's too fun...I bought a wonderful Airstream book years ago, chock full of vintage trailers and have been drooling all over the pictures (Poor book) much to my mother's continual confusion, as I have loved and secretly coveted Airstream's for quite a few years now, and she's never been able to figure out why (life's mysteries) And I will certainly keep in mind that the WestFork hike may be that much better with someone else along...or at least that much more romantic eh? ;)

The A/S BaseCamp is the the most attractive horse trailer ever built. Imagine the envy of the super wealthy when you pull into the next Percheron Stallion Convention.

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